|How to Motivate Yourself to do Good Things
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; is my father still alive? And his brothers could not answer him because they were terrified at his presence. (45:3)
Instead of simply stating, “I am Joseph,” he added “Is my father still alive?” Anyone following the story knows that he had been talking to the brothers until now about their (his) aged father in Canaan. If Joseph knew his father was alive, why did he ask, “is my father still alive?”
When he asked (“is my father still alive”), he was questioning his brothers about the emotional pain they had caused their father. “While you (my brothers) might have thought I was guilty and deserving of harsh punishment (thrown into a pit and being sold into slavery), our innocent father suffered due to your lack of judgment. Why have you not expressed remorse concerning him? Can he still be alive after all you have put him through? How could you be so indifferent to our father’s suffering all these years?”
Harmful actions cause pain to innocent people. When a person takes another’s life, they not only harm the victim, but also the victim’s family, children, and parents, all of whom are unable to be comforted. A wife loses a husband, a child loses a parent, a community might lose a respected and valued leader.
One who speaks lashon hara (negative speech) will harm not only the person spoken about, but might also affect their friendships, social status, or employment— and their families will pay the price as well.
Here’s the message Joseph was attempting to convey to his brothers. “You thought you were justified in trying to get rid of me, but how was it possible not to think of our aging father? What did he do to deserve this? ‘Is it possible that my father is still alive after all the unnecessary pain you have caused him?’”
How does unwittingly causing pain to an innocent person play out? I heard the following story from a colleague who heard it directly from the Belgium Rabbi involved. A man went to his Rabbi asking for a blessing for a business venture. After the elder Rabbi asked some questions, he began to realize that there appeared to be illegal activities involved. The man admitted his guilt but told the Rabbi he was going to do it anyway. Here’s how the conversation went.
“You will end up in jail,” said the Rabbi.
“I consulted my attorney and found out that the maximum sentence is three years,” said the man, “but I have decided that for the amount I will gain, it is worth the risk.”
“What about your wife.”
“I discussed it with her; she said it would be difficult but that she too was on board due to the huge financial benefit we would have.”
“What about your children? When word gets out that their father is in jail, they will be mocked at school. Are you going to put them through this—for years?”
Long pause; “I hadn’t thought about that. I’m not going to do it; I couldn’t do that to them.”This man is clearly missing a moral compass, but all hope is not lost. He was willing to be a thief, scamming someone or some institution out of a large amount of money, but he still had a morsel of morality that didn’t allow him to hurt his children. Left to his own thoughts, he didn’t realize it and had he not come to his Rabbi, he would have caused irreparable damage to innocent children.
Two important messages emerge: The first is that it’s always a good idea to call your Rabbi. Seriously, the main takeaway is to think of all those who will be affected by your poor judgement. But there is something else, let’s flip this around to find an encouraging message. The next time you think about doing a mitzvah, something positive, think of all the people who will be affected. If you compliment a cashier at checkout, they will feel good and might be a bit nicer to the next person or other employees. We have all heard stories about people who took the time to show concern or care for someone else and that person decided to not kill themselves, not to drop out of school, not be nasty in a divorce, not to take revenge, or do some other poor life choice. In each of these scenarios, think of the number of family members and others that were positively affected by one’s show of care.Next time you get upset, even if it’s justified, before you do anything, think of the collateral damage your speech or actions might have on the innocent people in your life. And the next time you need motivation to get involved to do something good, think of the rippling effect it will have on the people who mean everything to you. Good Shabbos